By Carolyn Thompson
BUFFALO, N.Y. — For a dozen years, Theresa Anderson was the queen of Deshler Street. The unassuming woman owned five small wooden houses along the poor side street, filling them with her children, grandchildren and other relatives who kept their lots tidy, watched out for trouble and pitched in with the family business.
That the family business was selling crack cocaine at all hours of the day and night didn't seem to matter to some of the neighbors, who say their little street on Buffalo's impoverished east side has actually gotten less secure since SWAT teams stormed in and shut down Anderson's drug operation last year.
"I miss Theresa, I really do," said Debra Walker, who has lived on Deshler for more than nine years. When Anderson was in control, "I actually felt safer. Now my place has been broken into."
The 58-year-old Anderson, who is set to be sentenced this week to up to 17 ½ years for conspiracy, was notable for her ordinary appearance. Prosecutors say that's part of what made her an insidious criminal. And neighbors say that's part of why she and her family are remembered more for being valued neighbors than being drug peddlers.
Plywood now covers the windows of Anderson's houses, some of which sit side-by-side among the street's 20 occupied homes and overgrown vacant lots, giving Deshler Street even more a feel of abandonment.
Neighbor Deanna Gresko said prostitutes and their johns have now invaded the street, something that didn't happen when Anderson and her family were around.
"There was people here. There was people watching," Gresko said, adding that Anderson "wasn't a gang-banger drug dealer who would threaten you."
Anderson had no reason not to be nice to those who didn't interfere with her business, said Common Council member David Franczyk, who represents the area.
"It's a sad commentary," he said. "It's like the old days of Prohibition when you looked for the mob to keep order on your street. ... But it's a false sense of security. She's bringing criminals into the neighborhood."
Anderson admitted running the Anderson Drug Trafficking Organization, a fittingly business-sounding name for an operation that boasted loyal employees, multiple locations and squashed competition.
When SWAT teams raided the Deshler Street drug houses and several others Anderson owned on nearby streets in February 2012, police swept up not only Anderson but also her common-law husband, three adult daughters, two of the daughters' boyfriends, Anderson's son and a granddaughter. All have since pleaded guilty to drug charges.
"It was a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week operation for the last 12 years, and literally hundreds of grams of crack cocaine were sold," U.S. Attorney William Hochul said.
Michelle Spahn, acting resident agent-in-charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Buffalo, said drugs were stored in and sold from Anderson's homes, and lookouts patrolled the street to alert Anderson to suspected police.
"It was kind of like a monopoly," she said. "They used intimidation and violence ...to make sure that the competition didn't come into her neighborhood."
In all, Anderson agreed to forfeit 10 houses, most purchased for less than $10,000, along with $52,000 in cash as part of a plea agreement in June. Eventually, the houses may be sold. As part of the plea, the government is also putting a $1.25 million lien against her and plans to seize anything they can find of hers until that amount is satisfied.
Anderson's lawyer, Robert Ross Fogg, did not return calls from The Associated Press before sentencing. He said in court this year that she pleaded guilty to ease the legal burden on her family members.
"Drugs, they take hold of you," he said. "They take your soul, and they take your mind."
Dannette Coleman moved to Deshler in February, a year after the raid. She has thought about trying to buy the boarded home next door that Anderson owned.
"I heard there was a lot of drug activity but that she was a nice lady," Coleman said. "That she took care of her community."
Spahn is not surprised by that perception in the community.
"The public in general perceives that there is a stereotype" of a drug trafficker, she said. "When they see her picture, they would probably be very surprised."
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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.